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Q.6.a and Other places Part 12

+--------+------+-----------+-----------+----------+-----------+ Month Days Days of Effective Infantry Transport Bad Light Days Seen Vehicles +--------+------+-----------+-----------+----------+-----------+ June 21 8 13 2,100 83 July 31 7 24 5,400 413 August 20 4 16 4,650 205 +--------+------+-----------+-----------+----------+-----------+ Total 72 19 53 12,150 791 +--------+------+-----------+-----------+----------+-----------+

Our two best days occurred on August 6 and 12. On the 6th a large movement was observed in the early hours, indicating a relief, which was reported to the Division at once by wire. So that when the relief was continued at night, our artillery were prepared to deal with the German parties moving in or out of the trenches. On this day alone 1126 infantry and 55 transport vehicles were seen on the move. The 42nd Division Intelligence Report of August 7 reported the matter as follows:

'Relief south of the Serre-Mailly Road which commenced on a large scale on the morning of the 6th was continued during the evening; between 6.50 and 8.20 P.M. 197 men with packs in nineteen parties came towards the front line past Q. 6. a. 95.

80. These parties were engaged by H.A. with great success.

Casualties caused being estimated to be at least fifty; four direct hits were obtained on a party at 7.15 P.M., and on one occasion an out-going party was seen to have a free fight with an in-going party to gain possession of a sunken track or trench in Q. 6. a. Total hostile infantry seen by Divisional O.P. on the 6th reached the high number of 1126.'

The observers had their share in those fifty casualties, as Pte. F.

Turner went to Rose O.P. and directed the Sergeant Gunner in charge to the proper map reference of the German troops. That 6-inch battery shot superbly, and I wish I knew the Sergeant's name. The G.O.C. sent his congratulations to the observers on the day's work.

On August 12 at 6 A.M. the observers informed me that the Germans had been seen going out of their trenches in large numbers and all carrying packs, rifles, and boxes as well. On this I sent a pigeon message to the Corps, saying that the enemy might be retiring now. As it happened this was quite correct, as the Germans admitted themselves a few days later in their communique.

I also wish to put on record an act of kindness to the observers by the Division and Corps. On August 8 the enemy began to shell the neighbourhood of Adam O.P. rather severely with a 5.9-inch howitzer battery. As this went on, I rang up D.H.Q. and asked if anything could be done in retaliation against the enemy's O.P.'s in L. 33. a. Col.

Guy told me that he would see what the Corps would do for us; and rang up later to tell me to ask the observers at Adam O.P. to note results at 2.30 P.M. At the appointed time, every active heavy gun in the Corps fired a shell simultaneously against selected targets, including L. 33. a. There were at least four brigades of heavies in the Corps and the noise was colossal. It must have astonished the enemy as much as it did me.

On August 9, 2nd-Lieut. Edmunds of the 7th N.F. came to assist me, and to take over command of the observers during my leave which was now drawing near. I told him that we had never been shelled at Eve O.P.

But as luck would have it that very afternoon, about 2 P.M., a long-range gun shelled the O.P. for about twenty minutes; and I had to clear the men off into the neighbouring Red Line trenches till the annoyance ceased.

On August 14 the enemy were attacked all along the IV Corps front and a considerable advance was made that day. Pte. King remained at the telescope all day, and sent in a number of interesting reports about the enemy's movements.

At this point I have to break off the narrative, as my leave warrant arrived that night and I left the observers till August 31 in charge of 2nd-Lieut. J.H. Edmunds.

One word about the admirable services of my batman, Pte. W. Critchlow.

For ten weeks and more, in addition to looking after my own personal comforts, he cooked for the whole party of observers at Eve O.P. This may seem a small matter, but he never had a rest like the other men, and his hard work contributed materially to the comfort and efficiency of the section.

XXXIV

THE BRITISH OFFENSIVE 1918--BAPAUME RETAKEN

On my return to France, I reached Authieule railway station on August 31, and went on next morning, partly by car and motor-bus and partly on foot, to Miraumont. Here I found the observers with B Company (Capt. W.N. Craigs, M.C.) of the 7th N.F. near the railway station. It had been strange passing over the smitten ground on the Serre Ridge, and it was possible then to realise the terrible effects of our heavy shell fire. Gangs of men were now mending the road all the way to Miraumont; but it must have been in a shocking state. In one place part of a transport cart hung suspended from the shattered branches of a tree; and everywhere the ground was absolutely churned to pieces.

I learnt that D.H.Q. had moved forward to Grevillers, and on September 3 I decided to make a move forward to Loupart Wood, in order to get the observers more in touch with them.

We were badly handicapped in all the succeeding stages of the campaign by having no transport to move our belongings. Besides the ordinary infantryman's equipment, no light weight, we had our blankets, three telescopes, compasses, and a lot of maps, books, and stationery, and our daily ration to carry as well. By good luck, however, we found an old German hand-cart in very fair condition about the station yard; and we used this hand-cart for getting our gear along for many a weary mile. In fact we finally dropped it at Le Quesnoy on November 5, not because it was worn out, but because other transport was found for us.

By the evening of September 3 we got settled into some dugouts at the north end of Loupart Wood. There were a few dead Germans scattered about, but a lot more dead horses than men. And as the weather was hot, the air was none too pleasant.

Next day I visited D.H.Q. who were in some tents outside Grevillers, and Capt. Kirsopp told me that the observers were urgently needed. It was proposed to send a party of them forward on bicycles to keep in touch with the retreating Germans. And so the same day Ptes. King and Drake (7th N.F.) and F. Greenwood (10th M.B.) went forward towards Havrincourt Wood to get such news as they could. It had been intended at first that I should go with them, but it was found impossible to provide me with a horse. The British forces had already taken Bapaume, Villers-au-Flos, and Riencourt, and the enemy were supposed to be retreating fast in the direction of the old Hindenburg Line which lay beyond Havrincourt Wood. Pte. King's party did good work; they went through Barastre and Bus in front of the advance guards of the infantry, and met with no opposition beyond occasional long-range machine-gun fire. Their first O.P. was just south of Bertincourt, and the following days near Neuville-Bourjonval. For this expedition Pte.

King was awarded the Military Medal. On September 3 I went with Pte.

Turner to some high ground just south of Bapaume and stayed there several hours. From here little shelling could be seen, the main body of the enemy must have retired as far as Havrincourt Wood. Long-range shells fell near Bapaume and the railway during the day. The same evening I reported at D.H.Q., and found things pretty lively during my visit; for two or three German 'planes dropped a number of bombs about the place, not a pleasant experience for those living in tents. Next day (September 4) the observers moved forward with the hand-cart through Grevillers and then to Thilloy and across country to the high ground south of Bapaume. Here there were plenty of small German shelters and dugouts partially protected by a shallow trench. In these we took up our quarters, whilst D.H.Q. moved to some ammunition dugouts on the other side of the road from Bapaume to Peronne. Next day (September 5) accompanied by Pte. Turner I reconnoitred the high ground about Bus. There were many German dead still lying about near the approaches to Villers-au-Flos, where a considerable stand must have been made by the German machine-gunners to cover the retreat.

Also we saw on our way back a party of the 7th N.F. preparing to bury a number of our own men who had fallen in the advance. The same evening I was told that the 42nd Division would be relieved that night by the New Zealand Division, and that the observers should stand fast until further orders, Pte. King's party joined us the next day. We stayed here for the next two weeks, in what proved to be quite comfortable quarters. A German soda-water factory was discovered at Beaulencourt, and we were in time to secure a few bottles. Training was now resumed in the mornings, and the observers practised sending and receiving messages with four signallers of the 7th N.F. who were attached to us. In the afternoon we were free to roam over the recent battle-field, where many souvenirs of the enemy could be picked up. We now lay just to the north of the old Somme battle-ground. And on September 15 I went to Martinpuich by bus down the Albert-Bapaume Road and revisited the scene of our attack on the High Wood Ridge, which had taken place just two years before. During our stay at this place we had visits every night from German aircraft. But they fared none too well. I saw one aeroplane brought down in flames at night near Villers-au-Flos by our anti-aircraft guns; and two others shared the same fate. This was a great feather in the cap of the anti-aircraft gunners; for an aeroplane is particularly difficult to hit at night.

The 42nd Division was ordered to relieve the 37th Division on September 22. The latter Division had now reached the old British front line east of Havrincourt Wood. And the Germans were now in the Hindenburg Line, behind 'the walls of bronze' which had checked us once and which they hoped would again stay the pursuit of their beaten legions.

One particularly disgusting feature of our journey in pursuit of the enemy was the dreadful state of the huts he had occupied. They all appeared to be moving with lice and fleas, and it was a most difficult matter to keep oneself free from their unpleasant attentions. It was the same wherever we stopped.

XXXV

THE STORMING OF THE HINDENBURG LINE NEAR TRESCAULT

On September 20 I went with Lieut. G.F. Doble, the Divisional Intelligence Officer, to visit the new area in front. We found D.H.Q.

established in a wonderful series of huts south-west of Velu Wood.

These had been the H.Q. of some German Corps, and wonderfully well barricaded they were. Inside each hut, which was panelled with wood, there was a sliding panel which admitted to a deep shelter dugout beneath. Here in case of bombing by our aeroplanes, the German officer had been able to retire quickly and without loss of dignity to a place of safety. From here we paid a short visit by motor-car to the B.H.Q.

north-west of Havrincourt Wood. On returning through Bapaume I had the great pleasure of meeting Major W. Anderson, D.S.O., M.C., my old Brigade-Major, who was now G.S.O. II of the 37th Division.

On September 21 the observers went forward with their hand-cart through Riencourt, Villers-au-Flos, and Haplincourt to the outskirts of Bertincourt. We first selected some empty huts near Velu Wood as our place of residence. But as we were shelled about five minutes after arriving, we decided to move a little farther from the wood.

Finally we found two useful Nissen huts built into the roadside and sheltered by some tall elm trees, just west of Bertincourt. It was not a very quiet or healthy spot anywhere near Bertincourt; but we were not damaged by the enemy's shells, though occasionally annoyed. The same afternoon I went forward by myself to reconnoitre a position for the Divisional O.P. And I found a useful place in the north of Havrincourt Wood, or rather in the rough thorny scrub that had once formed part of the wood.

[Illustration: Scene of the Attack on the Hindenburg Line, Sept.

28, 1918.]

Observation was obtained through the branches of a tree, and a small shelter dugout was close at hand. The field of view extended along the left flank of the Corps and Divisional front, and went a long way back to the high ground between Niergnes and Esnes. Flesquieres, Ribecourt, Marcoing, Rumilly, and Masnieres could all be seen. The next few days were spent in locating our surroundings and in reporting the traffic seen on the back roads. On September 27 I went with L.-C. Cowen to inspect an O.P. in the British front-line system south-east of Trescault. We went through the wood and then along a winding C.T.

which brought us to the front line. Here we found a deep dugout with a ladder leading up to an O.P. on ground level. The view in front was not altogether satisfactory, but towards the left it was good.

At dawn on September 28 the grand assault on the Hindenburg Line began. It was quite successful on our left and on the left of our front, but the Division on our right had great difficulty in getting forward. By the following day, however, the line was advanced along the whole front, and the N.Z. Division, taking over the pursuit from us, made good captures of men and guns. L.-C. Cowen and Pte.

McGarrigle went to the O.P. in the front line on September 28 and had rather a rough passage. Pte. Fail had a small party at the other O.P., and obtained a fairly good view of the battle. On September 29 Pte.

King went with Pte. Chappell in the direction of Ribecourt, but this expedition was brought to an end by a shell which wounded Pte.

Chappell badly in the face. This was the second and, as events turned out, the last casualty amongst my observers. I spent a long time the second day with the observers at the O.P. in Havrincourt Wood and we saw much German transport hurrying back south of Niergnes. On the night of September 29 the 42nd Division was relieved, and I received instructions to remain at our quarters near Bertincourt. After the battle we were no longer troubled with any shells. Second-Lieut.

Edmunds who had been on leave since we left Miraumont came back to assist me, for about another month. Great droves of German prisoners now began to pass us several times a day, a cheering sight in one way, but not a pleasant one in another. They were truly a desperate-looking collection of men, mostly of a very low class.

This halt enabled me to get round the country and make sketches of the various battle-fields.

One night I had dinner at D.H.Q. as the guest of Capt. Kirsopp, and enjoyed the hospitality of 'Z' Mess. I found a great curiosity in the fields near Bertincourt. An old cannon-ball pitted with rust and dating possibly from Marlborough's days. As I could not take it away with me, I gave it to Major Clarke, the G.S.O. II.

On October 7 the observers moved to some dugouts near Trescault, where we remained two days. On October 8 I went on to Welsh Ridge, but nothing much could be seen from there. The battle-field was strewn with Germans who had fallen in the battle ten days before. On October 9 we had a long march which took all day. We went through Beaucamp and then towards Masnieres, finally reaching the shattered village of Crevecoeur. Next morning we moved on again to Esnes, where we had billets in a nice farm-house.

At last we had reached the land of vegetables, and for the rest of the campaign we had a plentiful supply. We had been very short of this kind of food since May.

On October 11 we moved on again and got a billet in a small cottage in Fontaine-au-Pire. Next day on again to the next town, Beauvois, which was not at all badly smashed. We had billets in a couple of small cottages off the main street and we were fairly comfortable here. The plague of house-flies was very bad at this place; the whole place was full of them.

The 42nd Division relieved the N.Z. Division on October 12 on a front extending south of Solesmes and covering Briastre.

XXXVI

THE GERMANS' LAST STAND

On October 12 I went with Pte. Firth to a ridge south of Viesly to look for an O.P., and selected a spot in the open, but near a sunk road. However, the G.O.C. required a post to be held on the high ground north of the village. This was only half a mile from the enemy's front line and in full view of the enemy, so that I suspected we should not be allowed to stop there very long. A regiment of Hussars was attached to the Corps and stationed at Caudry.

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